What Has Jerusalem to Do With Athens?: Learning From Different Worldviews
Second-century theologian Tertullian asked, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic?”
Does everything I read, hear, and watch have to be distinctly Christian? Is it possible to learn from those who do not share my worldview? What dangers should I watch out for if I should wade into secular or even pagan ideas?
Or is it safer to simply avoid these works altogether?
On thinking about this, I came across a quote from John Calvin’s Institutes, who in turn echoes Augustine. He writes,
“Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver.”
Because humanity—Christian or not—still bears the image of God, even secular authors can reflect His truth.
I don’t think this means we should blindly accept everything we read. When truth is the product of a godless worldview, I do need to be wary. In these cases, I take some time to reframe that truth in light of God’s perspective before I swallow it.
This is why I believe we need to have a strong foundation in Scripture. Every time I read a book that does not have a clear Christian worldview, I pray and ask the Spirit to recognize the truth but also the motivations and ramifications that surround it.
I have found so many helpful insights and wisdom in “secular” literature, particularly in the practical arena where the Bible is silent as to how to walk out our faith. I read communications books to learn how to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). I read productivity books to learn how to number my days rightly (Ps. 90:12). I read business books to learn how to steward my gifts and serve others (Eph. 4:12-13).
The Academy of Athens and its humanistic philosophy are recycled into new forms for every age. We need not be afraid, but we do need to be discerning and ready to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
When I read prayerfully, I actually find myself stretching my mind a little more when I do so. I better understand the natural human mind apart from God. And I am more equipped to engage with others outside the Christian circle a little more thoughtfully, graciously and humbly.
What do you think?